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[May I have your attention please!][May I have your attention please!]

   Nikita Agarwal

Here are some tips to read this article in its entirety: Shut all other browser windows. Log off your messengers. Close your email client. Keep your phone off the hook. For good measure, plug your ears.

We're kidding. But only just.

For, according to an expert, too much of browsing the Web can result in you having too short an attention span - nine seconds.

You wouldn't be alone, though - goldfish share the same extent of concentration. "Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things," says Prof Ted Selker, who specialises in the online counterpart of body language, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. "If we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the Web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating," says Selker in this BBC report.

Prakash Pradhan, Psychiatrist, Nair Hospital, Mumbai, says that 'attention span' is the ability to maintain focus on stimuli. Not so long ago, the time span associated with this term was in the order of minutes, but over a period of time it has been gradually shrinking. So much so, that people living in urban areas can actually compete with silicon devices called 'microprocessors' for the coveted title of 'the fastest switching devices on earth'.

"The Internet causes an addiction for quick results, whereas, human interactions are not so quick," says Pradhan. "This may lead to asocial or unnatural behavior, where a person shows impatience and uneasiness in social gatherings. Levels of tolerance also reduce. In extreme cases, one may develop a condition known as 'attention deficit hyperactive disorder' (ADHD)."

He claims, however, that one cannot say with certainty that obsessive browsing reduces the attention span. If a person's daily activities are well organised, there is little chance of that happening, he feels.

Mike Magee, Editor, The Inquirer, says, "If you're doing research work, I'd say the Net actually helps you to concentrate more. Now suppose you want to write an article on woodpeckers, a search on Google or on dmoz will bring up a heap of specific sites on the subject and will keep you focused. But, what could also happen is that while browsing, you get led away from your original stream of thought. In that sense, I suppose, the Net can reduce your attention span.

"As people do not really have the time to read everything these days, they may switch from one thing to the other, depending on what interests them or what they need."

M Adam Sheck, a California-based clinical psychologist, says, "I'm not aware of any research on the subject of attention span in relation to the Internet. My own personal thoughts and clinical experience lead me to consider this as cause and effect. The question then, is which is cause and which is effect".

He feels that the converse is true.

"I would suggest that it is the decreasing attention span of our society which is the cause. The effect is then the phenomenon of web surfing. This effect can be seen in television in the so-called 'channel surfing' effect as well," he adds.

Charles E Martin, a Clinical Psychologist in the US, has a different perspective. "Browsing on the Internet is not much different than viewing TV, in terms of attention. I should think that it would not reduce our attention span. As a matter of fact, the multi-camera aspect of both TV and movies were developed because most people get bored very easily if the viewing perspective is not changed frequently."

Research shows that the average Web surfer has one finger on the mouse button at all times, and if you don't grab his attention in 10 seconds, he's out of your Web site.

The ability to mentally focus and sustain concentration over a period of time is an internal process developed in early childhood. The earlier a child acquires a passive TV/PC habit, the less likely will his attention span develop normally.

A child who is left for hours in front of a computer with nothing else to do and who is not encouraged to develop hobbies like reading or drawing, cannot be expected to turn off the PC. The child naturally develops a browsing habit, the choices predetermined by the poverty of the environment.

It may seem simple, but decisions taken by parents can prove crucial in the appropriate development of a child or in this case, the child's attention span. A puzzle instead of a video game, a trip to an art museum instead of a movie, an aquarium for the child's bedroom instead of a PC - gifts can be calculated to improve the child's concentration habits.

Dr Rohini Ramamurthy, Consulting Psychologist, and Visiting Faculty (Department of Psychology, SNDT), says that a lot more research is required on this topic. "Our personality determines our Web browsing habits to some extent. Low attention spans may be because the person is basically restless, or also due to fatigue after a day's work".

In her opinion, fall in the attention span may be both, cause as well as effect of over-exposure to TV or the Web. "In fact, attention deficit hyperactive disorder is a physiological condition where victims find it difficult to focus their attention on anything - be it on the Web, or anywhere else for that matter."

Tomorrow: Surfing to distraction


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